Poetry | December 01, 2007

Featuring the poems:

  • White Power [featured as a Poem of the Week April 16, 2008]
  • Vigil of the Door
  • Elephants of the Good Ship Memory
  • Mortal Aphasia
  • The Amazing Tomkins — Readings by Touch — No Appointment Necessary


White Power

To explain, for instance, this gas station clerk

who speaks to me in emphasized English, as though

my native language were something he heard in a war

movie, I have to go back to my neighbors in Bakersfield,

who listened to metal and shaved their heads


because their neighborhood was filling up with spicks,

niggers, fags and me. “Go back to the jungle!” they’d shout

at fruit pickers and drag queens, and I wondered what

imagined world they fought, what tropic in which

people swing from banana trees like crazed gay

Mexican lemurs. “Go back inside,” their mother told them


when she saw me watching from my porch, my face

brown with California sun, my eyes like slants of rice grain.

They vanished into their cluttered besieged house, the deadbolt

dropping as the door shut. To understand the deadbolt,

I have to go back to high school, to a boy who called me gook


every afternoon as he walked past me. His father was a veteran,

his brother a marine, my face the enemy’s face.

Every day for a year, he strolled by me and looked straight ahead

as he said gook in emphasized English, or chink, rice nigger,

slant-eye, Chinaman. The afternoon I caught him alone


and saw the swastika drawn on the back of his hand,

I punched him in the face until he curled up on the floor, arms

shielding his temples, and then I kicked him until

the police came. To explain why I was crying when my boot

met his belly, I have to go back to my first neighborhood


where, when I was eight, white people moved in.

Their sons were a little older, and loved to play cowboys

and Indians. They were the blond and fair frontiersmen,

the rest of us hordes of small dark Cherokee struck down


to make America. You two are Indian scouts, they said,

and you over there, you’re braves. Everyone was a cowboy

or an Indian, except for a little girl and me. We don’t need

no more Indians, they said. Too many

damn Indians already. You two, you’re horses.


We giggled until they pushed us to our hands and knees

and ordered us to eat grass. A year later, I would fight

one of them until he made me cry, but there on all fours,

I ate the grass. The little girl bawled, her mouth green

as money. Get along, they said. They drew

their pistols, and they rode us.

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